This research study shows how empowering discriminated groups can help them overcome the poverty trap. Considerable research has looked at the material aspects of poverty (which includes access to banks, healthcare etc), but alongside this there is also a psychological poverty trap, which is internalised as an outcome of material poverty, of belonging to a lower caste and social exclusion. A strategy needs to incorporate both aspects to alleviate the poverty trap.
This study compared a group of sex workers from 98 brothels who went through self-image building CBT training with a control group. At the beginning both groups had rock-bottom levels of self-worth and had internalised that they did not deserve dignity. However, for the group who went to the two-months workshops, aimed at building self-worth and reframing their role as ‘entertainment workers’ amongst other things, significant changes were observed.
Ghosal, Sayantan, Smarajit Jana, Anandi Mani, Sandip Mitra, and Sanchari Roy, (2020). “Sex Workers, Stigma and SelfImage: Evidence from Kolkata Brothels,” Review of Economics and Statistics, Advance publication.
This research looks at sex workers in Kolkata, as these are members of a very marginalised social group. Due to local perceptions that they’re doing immoral and ‘dirty work’, psychological constraints are very high amongst this community. These ideas aggravate poverty, and the marginalisation minimises material access. Most workers are also women, and so on top of the marginalisation they also experience levels of gender discrimination.
This research provides relevant insights for sex workers in any country. The findings can also be applied to any marginalised group in the developing world. These groups may be marginalised due to low caste, gender, race etc.
Research used a randomised trial methodology. Brothels were randomly selected and exposed to the training programme. The question to be answered was do people exposed to training make different decisions afterwards that benefit them in the long run?
Groups were chosen by brothels rather than by individual. This was because pilot estimates showed that women within brothels interact with each other, but it is rare to see inter-brothel social interactions. 66 brothels were selected for the training group and 32 brothels were in the control group.
While it was a quantitative study, qualitative research offered context and layering.
However, of course a one-size fits all solution does not exist. While this study shows the importance of adopting psychological strategies for poverty alleviation, the material aspect cannot be ignored. Instead they should be paired together and considered in tandem.
Yasmine Finbow prepared this research following an interview with Dr Sanchari Roy.